Book Reviews

Book Review: Outliers

3228917Outliers: The Story of Success

by Malcolm Gladwell
Non-fiction Hardcover, 309 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

I grabbed this off the classics section of my library on a whim. I’m not sure how it got shelved in the classics section, except to think that some brilliant educator realized Outliers should be required reading for anyone with a pulse.

 

Exaggeration? I’m known for it. But not this time.
The sort of books I take on vacation are strictly page-turners. I don’t want to feel like I’m working while I’m reading. I do enough of that at home.

 

Some people take worky books on vacation as a sort of counterbalance, like the man in the hot tub next to me reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. You could jack your car on The Fountainhead. Some people just can’t relax… but we had a nice discussion until the chlorine and heat had melted away several layers of my skin. Over the course of the week, I saw him in the same hot tub, and noted his steady progression through the literary behemoth.

 

Even on cruises, gossip abounds. Apparently, the Ayn Rand reader garnered a reputation. As in, people avoided his tub for fear he’d opine in their personal space for inordinate amounts of time, apparently bad taste on vacation. I thought he was nice enough.

 

Tangent, but ever-so-timely: sharing an opinion is dangerous business. At best, people will avoid you. Unconvinced? Wear a Make America Great Again hat through the streets of San Fransisco, I dare you. Dress in a rainbow-colored toga and stroll through any rural Texas town. Let me know if you don’t find yourself staring down the business end of a homemade AR-15. We’ve devolved. The idea of mutual respect in the face of differing opinions is not the status quo. How did this happen? Trump. He did it. Just ask anyone.

 

Alas, Outliers doesn’t solve the world’s problems, but it is a book anyone, of any political/religious/socioeconomic status could read, enjoy, and be better for the time spent.

 

The moment I began to read, the premise– what makes us successful, the supporting evidence, and the artful storytelling all conspired to suck me in. “Listen to this…” I’d say to my husband, and I’d quote whole swaths of text as we lounged by the pool. So intriguing were the connections Gladwell made, so sensible yet revelational. Smack your hand on your forehead revelational. Did I mention this was non-fiction? I did, but it bears repeating. A page-turner non-fiction book. Holy cow.

 

This is my first review ever, and I’m realizing I’ll probably only “review” books I want everyone on planet earth to read. I’m like a cheerleader for team Outliers, and I’m not even giving you substance. I’m like Donald Trump. It’s gonna be great. Believe me. Really great. Huge. 

 

But really– have you ever wondered what’s the difference between greatness and garbage? All things being equal, that is.

Take J. Robert Oppenheimer and The Radioactive Boy Scout. Both built dangerous nuclear devices. The boy scout at age 14 and Oppenheimer at age 38. One was arrested and the other commended by the governing bodies of their day. The Radioactive Boy Scout does not appear in Outliers (but it’s another must-read for scientifically minded young people or anyone interested in the lengths to which inspiration can take us); however, Outliers would show, systematically yet with flair, the reasons why one genius is stymied and another exalted. We don’t build our own stairways to heaven. Our thighs burn on the way up, but we climb stairs provided to us by a Las Vegas blend of social and cultural constructs. Personal grit, while important, is one of several factors to success.

…so Malcolm Gladwell effectively argues.

Readability: 5 out of 5
Merit: 5 out of 5

 

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Personal Journey

The Only Resolution You Need: Be Resolute

Resolute: 1. marked by firm determination 2. bold, steady.

In a fit of New Year’s zeal you wrote a bunch of resolutions. And in a fit of cold reality already broke at least one. Now you’re starting 2017 as a failure. Why even bother with the rest?  New Year’s resolutions are like trains. One car off the track and the whole thing goes. The year’s derailed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Make resolution your resolution.

Life will throw you down in 2017, of that you can be sure. Determine to get up when you fall, no matter what the goal or circumstance. Decide you’ll keep your vows, your promises, your commitments, both to yourself and to others. When you do that, everything else falls into line. Even a derailed train doesn’t have to stop. Where does it say it has to? A derailed train can keep moving forward, churning the earth into ruts behind it and dragging along whatever freight is there. And what is it doing?

Plowing. Paving its own road.

Imagine that train engine dragging its overturned cars along the tracks, igniting sparks from the flint of will and the drag of steel, bellowing the howl of metal on metal. That’s the mantra of the resolute.

Psalm 15:4 describes a resolute person as one …who keeps a promise even if it ruins him. 

Have you ever committed to something and halfway through, the landscape changed? The workload mutated, the expectation grew claws and horns and sharp teeth? That’s happened to me so many times I now brace for impact when I make a commitment. Call me a cynic. Or a realist. The fact that my commitment morphed into something else does not release me from it, not if I’m resolute. That’s what it means to keep your word no matter what.

Anybody can decide to fast. Deciding’s easy. It’s a word on a page, an intention. Not just anybody can Gandhi their way into changing the world. Don’t think Gandhi didn’t hunger. Don’t think he was some sort of superhero who didn’t need food like the rest of us. The difference between Gandhi and you or me: degree of resolution.

Look, if your resolutions don’t fly off your soul in a heartbeat, you probably don’t care enough to follow through. Limit your focus to a handful of things for which you’d die. They are the freight you’ll be dragging. They’re also the weight that makes you powerful in your momentum. You know the physics: a body’s mass determines its force.

Often our goals contradict one another. Lose weight. Enter ten hot-dog-eating contests. See more friends/family. Find more time for myself. Make more money. Get more sleep. Resolution is a pyre at which I must sacrifice worthy, wonderful, needful, beautiful things. Most of us can’t possibly accomplish all the high-minded and half-hearted goals we wrote in a delirium of self-aggrandizement. A train can’t go east and west at the same time. Take a fresh look at those resolutions. Do they align? Purge until they do.

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At Mount Rushmore, a young man was getting his picture taken. Giving the architectural marvel a middle finger salute.

“Don’t do that,” chided his mother, who was taking the photo. I’ll never forget his answer.

“This is ‘Merica. I can do Whatever… I… Want.”

In ‘Merica, we can flip off the stone busts of the founding fathers. We can do whatever we want. And that’s why we scrawl grand lists and scheme and plan and dream of the future. And some of us put more energy into flipping off life than embracing it. 77% of us would rather write resolutions than accomplish them.

Because it’s easier and more comfortable, we flip off a challenge and console ourselves with next year. But why wait?  If you, like me, like so many ‘Mericans, have trouble keeping your resolutions, try making just one this year: be resolute.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows. – Proverbs 20:25